My column - apologies for the centering

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Sat Nov 20 13:49:28 MST 1999

Comrades this is my monthly column. It seems to have centered itself in
some way that I cannot bloody well fix. Apart from that I hope some find it
of interest.


The Bin Pleads…

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper?

I hope that by the time this column has appeared on the streets of West End
that the Catholic activist Jim Dowling will have been released from prison
and reunited with his family. In a previous article I contrasted Jim's
commitment to the freedom of the East Timorese people to the Machiavellian
silences of the clerical prince, Bishop Battersby.  However, much as I
admire Jim's personal commitment and sacrifice, I now wish to argue
strongly against a key aspect of Jim's political position.  In announcing a
fast in prison he is quoted as describing this "as a penance for the
ongoing crime we all share for the 24-year betrayal of the East Timorese
people (Southern News, 30.9.99)".

In saying this Jim has fallen into the classic trap of bourgeois
thought.  This, as the American Marxist Bertell Ollman pointed out, can
only operate along two dimensions  that of the individual or that of
everyone. Thus a single individual is guilty or everyone is.  What
bourgeois thought cannot and will not do is to think in terms of groups or
classes.  It cannot conceive of the notion that a particular group or
social class may be guilty in East Timor while the great majority of us are
in fact innocent.

An analogous case is that of the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War.  There
an American army platoon led by a Lt Calley went through the village and
raped and slaughtered in their customary manner.  When this was revealed
the Christian evangelist Billy Graham said publicly,  'We all sinned at My
Lai.' Presumably this was meant to include even the draft resisters and the
brave thousands who unlike Graham had opposed the American invasion of
Vietnam.  Graham was of course wrong.  The sinners were not everyone but
those who waged the war and those who supported them.  Above all the guilty
group was the American ruling class  the most brutal and rapacious and
powerful class in the history of humanity.

Similarly Jim is wrong on East Timor.  The guilty are not 'all', but rather
those who waged and supported that invasion.  To be specific, the conquest
of East Timor was designed by Henry Kissinger, approved by Australian Labor
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and carried out by Butcher Suharto. These are
the guilty ones or if you like these are the ones who have sinned. To blame
everyone is wrong on several accounts. Such universalism, as I have shown,
disguises who actually ordered the invasion.  It also obscures the fact
that most people have no power at all in this world of ours.  In the arena
of foreign affairs this is especially true.  Wars are declared and bombs
are dropped and no vote is ever taken.

Jim's allegation that 'we all share the crime' is also wrong because it
means it is impossible to theorize innocence.  If we were all guilty over
East Timor, how could any of us have achieved the state of innocence? Here
of course we see the baleful influence of Catholic theology with its
noxious notion of original sin, which proclaims that humanity is a fallen
race, born guilty.  By contrast with this universal guilt hypothesis let me
repeat that the guilty are those with power and wealth.  The innocent are
those without power, those who are the victims of this social system of
ours. Why should they have to 'make the trip to Canossa'? Need I point out
that those responsible for the tragedy in East Timor are quite happy that
good people like Jim Dowling go around saying everyone is guilty?

  For the banks are made of marble
With bars on every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver that the workers sweated for.

I have been asked by a pensioner, who had discovered that he had been
charged $19 in bank fees, to explain why? He could not understand why the
banks, at a time when they have never been more profitable, would charge a
pensioner a sum that he could not afford.  He could not work out how the
banks could get away with what he perceives as bank robbery. Only this time
it is the banks that are doing the robbing.

I was tempted to tell him he should contact John Laws.  Apparently he is
the only person in Australia that the banks will listen to. For didn't they
offer  Laws $1.5 million dollars to shut up?  I was going to tell him that
maybe Laws would get an answer from the banking community. But instead I
offered him the truth as cold comfort. The reason why the banks and the
rich folk that own them can get away with taking money from pensioners, is
because the pensioners are poor and the banks are owned by the rich.  To be
rich in this society is to be powerful.  It is the very wealth of the banks
that enables them to fix the rules so they can become wealthier.  So I told
him that the next time he passes a bank, not to think of bank officials
toiling away at their calculators but to contemplate instead the wealthy
class that owns the banking system. It is the greed and rapaciousness and
immorality of this class that defines the character of the world we live in.

3.   Oh, you can't scare me. I'm sticking to the union...

David Kemp's leaked plans for the higher education sector have quite
rightly caused a great stir. Despite the talk  of 'equity initiatives' it
is clear that the de-regulation of the university system will ensure that
only the affluent will have access to a tertiary education. Kemp has made
no secret of his intention to apply market principles to education.  He and
the ideologues in his department think that this is how we will get to, as
they put it, a 'can do country'. The American expression is of course not a
coincidence.  For Kemp's proposals will Americanize our university system.

However there is another aspect of Kemp's plans that have received scant
media or political attention.  He quite clearly targets the National
Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).  He calls for 'workplace reform', which is
of course code for the destruction of the union movement. He also blames
the NTEU for 'rigidities' in the system. Why is the NTEU being
targeted?  The answer is simple.  The union, which is brilliantly led at
the state and federal levels, fights for the rights of its members. I am
proud to be a member of it.

Here at QUT during the very difficult round of Enterprise bargaining the
NTEU team led by Howard Guille has successfully beaten back the
management's argument that they cannot afford a decent pay rise.  Guille
has shown clearly that the money is there.  The university authorities have
now admitted that this is so but that a fair wage for staff is not at the
top of their priorities.
Could it be that behind the resistance of the QUT management is the figure
of Kemp? Certainly in his cabinet document he talks of wanting universities
to 'hold firm' and he promises them an 'injection of funds' if they will do so.

Well I have news for the authorities at QUT and for David Kemp and his band
of free marketeers.  They will never destroy the NTEU. Indeed the more they
attack us the stronger we will grow for no one wants a world where there is
no protection from the likes of Kemp or the folk who run our universities.

4. My heart leaps up when I behold...

My nights have once more been filled with watching sport. This time rugby.
The world cup has revived my interest in the game. I was looking forward
with some eagerness to the game between England and the Kiwis.  However as
I watched I was dismayed by the sight of the English taking the fight to
the mighty All Blacks. The sides were tied 16 all and I was beginning to
fear that the Saxons might win.  Then magic happened.  The ball went out to
Jonah Lomu and the mighty Tongan surged forward.  He swept past two tackles
and carried two men over with him to glory.

It brought back memories of his great days of 95 when he could not be
stopped.  Alas a life threatening illness has meant that he is only a
shadow of his former self. Still I will never forget the great moment in 95
when he charged towards the English line and the full back made ready to
tackle him. Jonah employed the famous Tongan side step - one boot on his
opponent's chest and the other on his head. I must confess that for some
reason the spectacle of a black man running over Englishmen make my heart
leap with joy. To be sure now isn't it meself that is after wondering why
that might be so?

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